The preseason AP Top 25 Poll is here, which means college basketball season is just around the corner.
FULL RANKINGS: Preseason AP Top 25
There weren’t a ton of surprises in Monday’s poll, but the rankings are intriguing nonetheless. Right or not, the list shapes the college hoops narrative for the season’s early months.With that in mind, we’ll break the preseason poll down in tiers. The categories are based objectively on total points (for example: teams two through four are separated by just 14 tallies) and subjectively on the author’s opinion of each team (every poll is different, but sometimes, the difference between teams seven and eight is not as drastic as the difference between teams 17 and 18).
Let’s get to it.
Tier I: The best of the best
No surprise here. Duke was nearly a unanimous No. 1 selection, receiving all but seven first-place votes. Harry Giles’ status is a concern, but even without him, Duke still might have the best roster in the country. This team is loaded.
Tier II: Clear title contenders
Kentucky and Kansas were separated by just three points, which feels about right. The Jayhawks are the safer choice at this point; Kansas is talented, has star power and is comfortable in its own skin. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have a higher ceiling than KU, but there’s always risk in anointing such a young team — even if it’s coached by John Calipari. Look no further than last year’s Kentucky group.
Villanova comes in at No. 4, and while it may not have the pizzazz that the top three teams do, the defending national champions are hungry to repeat in 2016-17. The Wildcats lost some pieces, but as a whole, their roster looks as formidable as ever.
Tier III: Title contenders, but will need a few good bounces
6. North Carolina
Villanova was probably in this group going into last season, so these teams are in a good spot. And though Arizona is ranked the lowest of these schools, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats leapfrog everyone when all is said and done. Sean Miller’s squad has star power, depth and pieces that fit on paper; time will tell if it meshes on the hardwood.
Every other team in this tier figures to be excellent, though a notch below the top four. Someone needs to pop in order for them to reach the promise land. Can Dylan Ennis regain his form for Oregon after a series of injuries? Will Seventh Woods become an impact player as a freshman at North Carolina? Does Edmond Sumner have a Big East Player of the Year run in him?
All of those scenarios are possible, though not necessarily likely. If the pieces fall into place, these squads can do some serious damage.
Tier IV: Fringe title contenders
12. Michigan State
Each roster has unproven parts, but they also have undeniable talent and winning traditions. Louisville outperformed preseason expectations on the court in 2015-16 and has a ton of depth once again; Indiana returns three studs in Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr.; and Michigan State, while young, has a star-studded freshman group and Tom Izzo roaming the sidelines.
There’s a lot to like about these three teams. Each could experience some growing pains, but by February, nobody is going to want to face them.
Tier V: These guys should be fun
17. Saint Mary's (Calif.)
Gonzaga reinvented itself this offseason, but the Bulldogs have plus starters at all five spots. Purdue continues to be the Memphis Grizzlies of college basketball. UCLA has one of the most exciting freshmen in the nation in Lonzo Ball. Saint Mary’s can score on anyone. UConn sports a two-headed monster in the backcourt, and No. 19 feels low for a Syracuse team that returns Tyler Lydon and adds a promising group of transfers and freshmen.
All of these squads are worth watching in 2016-17.
Tier VI: Up-and-coming, but perhaps a year away
21. West Virginia
23. Rhode Island
24. Iowa State
Despite an off year, voters must love Melo Trimble, because ranking Maryland given everything it lost is a big show of respect to the Terps point guard. As for the rest of these teams, there is a lot to like. Creighton seems to have a quality lineup in place for the first time since Doug McDermott left, and Rhode Island should prove to be a top 25 squad as long as it stays healthy.
And then there are Texas and West Virginia. We know this about the Longhorns and the Mountaineers: each team has athletes, and Shaka Smart and Bob Huggins usually know exactly how to utilize said athletes. We don’t know how the puzzle pieces will fit yet, but based on last season, it’s wise to give these two programs the benefit of the doubt.
We’re just more than 10 days away from regular season action. Let the games begin.